In a proactive move to counter the recent spate of rhino poaching in their country, Namibian authorities set up a series of meetings with various anti-poaching stakeholders…
The objective of the meetings and consultations was to create an explicit understanding in Namibia that if any advance is to be made in halting the poaching of rhino and the export of horn by outsiders in collusion with locals, it is critical that communities are actively engaged in the process.
Amongst these stakeholders were the various Traditional Authorities representing the majority of the people of Kunene Region. The Region’s conservation initiatives began in the days when the area was still known as Kaokoland and Damaraland. Back then, local communities, which for generations co-existed with the wildlife, took to the frontline to help curb what was then an indiscriminate assault on – particularly – elephant in the vast free-roaming area. Supported by passionate conservationists and NGO’s funded by various international donors the local communities’ engagement led to a resounding success in both stopping the poaching as well as entrenching a conservation ethos amongst the communities.
Today the area faces the same challenges, and even though from a much bigger and more sophisticated and organised syndicate, the community involvement in finding solutions cannot be over-emphasised. It is for this reason that NGOs and private tourism operators in the area undertook to bring the Traditional Authority members to the area to visit and see for themselves where the rhinos were poached and to engage their people residing in the affected areas on possible solutions.
Wilderness Safaris, like other operators in the area, played their part by offering Desert Rhino Camp for a night to host the Traditional Authority leaders and facilitators of the trip, along with various conservancy leaders. The visit to Desert Rhino Camp served both to showcase and educate the leaders on the importance of smart partnership between conservation and tourism and how potentially this can be used to fund sustainable conservation, particularly of rhino in the area. The partnership of conservation and tourism also strengthens the monitoring of species, therefore minimising the chances of poaching in the area as there are always boots on the ground in the core areas.
It was, however, not the lesson presented by the model of the unique partnership of Save The Rhino Trust and Wilderness Safaris that was brought up as a highlight by the delegation to Desert Rhino Camp but the warm hospitality of the Desert Rhino Camp team that was mentioned in speech after speech. It therefore goes without saying that the most profound anchor of an experience in the minds of our visitors remains their warm smiles.
In conclusion, the meetings are a testament to the legacy of Blythe Loutit and Garth Owen-Smith, whose work in the 1980s laid the foundation for working with rural communities and which resulted in the exceptional community conservancy programmes that have revolutionised conservation across Namibia.
Report by Jermain Ketji